The Peter Principle and the newly unemployed

A rhino I met once

I recently asked a local government councillor if he could advise on a local issue. He was of no help whatever. Firstly he didn’t seem to understand the problem and secondly he wanted to pass the buck to someone else. Maybe he was having a bad day, though his emailed reply to me was barely coherent.

You know who this guy reminded me of? One of those people who work in large organizations and who have been promoted beyond their ability in accordance with the Peter Principle. This states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. We can’t blame these people for their failures. They just can’t help it.

Of course undue promotion may not just place people beyond their technical ability. Often their actual technical ability may lead to promotion beyond their managerial ability. When I worked for a large firm of accountants there were managers and partners who were technically excellent but entirely incapable of looking after human beings. They didn’t understand at all how to relate to them, get the best out of them or manage their needs. They were insensitive or maybe had the skins of rhinoceroses.

Serious geeks like these people need to be left to get on with what they are good at and of course reward them properly. Not everyone is cut out to look after people or indeed to make management decisions; decisions which affect the future of a business.

I worry about those types who are coming out of employment rather sooner than they might have expected. Either they will be bored to death on their possibly reduced pensions with the current low annuity rates or they will feel impelled to go freelance but won’t actually have a clue how to talk to the people they need.

You cannot run a small business if you do not know how to deal with people. Will coaching help with this? Would someone who is not a people-person always realise their inadequacy in this area, or just blame everyone else for their failings? I don’t know the answer. Do you?

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5 Responses to The Peter Principle and the newly unemployed

  1. I’m a great believer in the Peter Principal as well Jon and I have blogged on it in the past.

    More recently however, I have come to belief that while the Peter Principal does apply that many sometimes the problem of capability is down to a lack of support and development.

    Maybe this will apply to some of the people coming out of employment and with the right support they may possibly thrive.

  2. Jon Stow says:

    So, Susan, you think that the Peters and Petronellas can succeed with the right guidance. I would like to think so, too, but will they know they need help before it is too late?

    Thank you very much for dropping by.

  3. Unfortunately managment training in the UK seems to have a bad name. As a wage slave for many years I met too many line managers who did not have a clue and did no training unless the alternative was being fired. As an IFA doing some networking, now I see lots of the newly self-employed who seem to believe that buying a franchise is the passport to a training/mentoring/management consultancy career. Technical nerds don’t make good managers or trainers, mentors or consultants as they cannot influence people, (for good or ill!). Training would help a lot, it certainly worked for me, but without seeing the problem, you won’t solve it.

  4. Jon Stow says:

    Thanks, Jeremy. To be a manager you need to understand people. It should come with experience and observation, perhaps with a little training. Probably your colleagues who did the training because they had no alternative still didn’t learn because they didn’t understand the purpose.

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